Law Firm Innovation: Do or Die

By Joseph Raczynski

The last five years have seen significant change in the legal marketplace.  According to this panel, delivering services to clients is chief among the transformations.  At this ILTA session, Ron Friedmann of Fireman & Company, Scott Rechtschaffen at  Littler Mendelson, P.C., and Andrew Perlman from Suffolk University Law School discussed “The Legal Industry Inflection Point: The Time for Innovation is Now!“.

In the first pass at uncovering how firms can adjust Scott Rechtschaffen mentioned it must start with preparing law students.  He went on to state that, “The technology and process lawyers use to deliver legal services to their clients must inevitably change”.  These were his three tenents:

–              Clients will no longer accept annual rate increases from outside counsel

–              Clients continue to prefer to bring more work in-house

–              Clients will look for alternatives to outside counsel for routine and repetitive tasks

In essence no client is going to pay top dollar for lower associates anymore.  They would rather hire their own attorney and teach them the basics for the more mundane routine tasks.

In one of the more interesting anecdote’s Scott Rechtschaffen at Littler Mendelson described a firm leadership meeting he ran with 450 shareholders in attendance.  He asked the following of his audience.  Would you bank with a firm that did not have online account access?  Would you buy tickets from StubHub if they did not disclose the location of your concert tickets?  Would you book a flight with an airline that did not display your seat location?  To each question it was a unanimous, “no”.  So he asked, “Then why are your clients denied that level of basic access?”  He mentioned that story resonated with everyone in the room.  Their firm began a rapid movement and adoption of innovation from that point onward.

From the scholastic perspective, Andrew Perlman from Suffolk University Law School stated “Traditionally Law Schools have done a dreadful job for their students.”  As he leads innovation for the institution, they have a new focus for their students.   The concept is for people to skate to where the puck is going, not where it currently is located.

This is a very unique take on reinventing law school.  This is the class list for Suffolk’s Legal Technology/Innovation Concentration:

–              Legal Project Management (LPM)

–              Lawyering in the Age of Smart Phones

–              21st Century Legal Profession

–              eDiscovery

–              Externships with a New Generation of Employers (think eDiscovery processors, KM companies)

–              Legal Tech Audit: Law School Edition

Some of the final thoughts from the panel echoing concepts from above were:

–              There will be a major LegalZoom type company which will serve large swathes of the public with quality legal documents

–              The biggest area to be disrupted at firms is with associates.  Currently they primarily focus on rudimentary tasks.  The twist is they will need to train the associates to be partners, i.e. sell, understand pricing structures; while others do eDiscovery, brief writing, or document review.  They will find their niche early and stick with it.

Lastly the panel summed up the entire conversation with the following quote, “Law Firm Innovation: If you don’t cannibalize your business someone else will.  Constant innovation is now paramount.”

 

Project Management’s Last Frontier: Law Firms

What would the father of project management Henry Gantt say today?  Having increased its scope to nearly every industry, from civil engineering to defense and software development; project management has rarely delivered at law firms, until now.  The landscape and technology has transformed enough such that project management can and will thrive at law firms.

The practice is creeping, yet some scoff.  While recently visiting a mega firm in Washington, DC they admitted to being in the midst of a five year plan to fully adopt and integrate project management within the organization.  They say it is an iterative process, but they are very encouraged thus far.  This direction is due to the demand by clients for alternative fee arrangements.  Now their office is abuzz with terms like scope creep, Agile, and Gantt charts.  This is intriguing because multiple conversations with third to seventh year associates at various large firms confirms one thing, we are still in the evolving phase of understanding.  There is a temporary disconnect between some attorneys and what is just ahead.  Nearly every associate balked at the idea that a project manager utilizing technology tools like Microsoft Project will be a part of their existence.  However, that said, increasingly I see management paring out positions for project managers and instilling the processes.   These two will align soon.

As a project manager for full life cycle development for many years and consulting to law firms in technology now, these processes making sense in medium and large law firms for the following reasons:

  • With the increase in alternative fee arrangements, project management will allow for greater predictability of costs, revenue and in turn ROI. Compared to the last few years budgets and partner profits will be far more consistent and stable.
  • Cases can be divvied into tasks, thus freeing attorneys to actually lawyer, other areas can be outsourced to the proper resources. Why have partners responsible for so much administrative work like hourly allotment?
  • Technology allows metrics to be introduced which can be used to constantly better the process, e.g. matter management software, client tracking software, i.e. LookUp Precision, OneLog . Project management toolsets are currently being implemented at firms. Additionally model honing will increasingly better predictability. Firms will use technology to determine the profitability of a particular case, assisting them in deciding whether to take it.

 

The simple premise behind project management is that it is a temporary endeavor, having a defined beginning and end to meet objectives, usually to bring about beneficial change or added value.  Now that the law landscape has evolved, project management has finally its place in the ever elusive law firm.